Friday, June 18, 2021

More bits and bobs

My ongoing dive into newspapers.com continues to reveal all sorts of informational nuggets. Most wind up in my Guaraldi Timeline, which is expanding at an exponential rate, but others are worthy of a few paragraphs here.

Enjoy!

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San Francisco Chronicle columnist Ralph J. Gleason interviewed Guaraldi while the pianist still was a member of Cal Tjader's Quintet, for a feature story that appeared November 30, 1958. Vince's comments included these revealing passages:

"I first heard boogie woogie on Bing Crosby's Kraft Music Hall [a radio variety program that aired from 1933 to 1949]. Some guy played it and explained the different basses. I learned my first tune in G-flat, played on the black keys. It's an easy way to learn to play the piano. At first I just played in the house, though.

"Boogie woogie has helped me a lot, for a blues taste. Those cats had a good time; I still have their albums, and I still play them. You can adapt a lot of what they do to Latin music, for instance."

And, when asked to name his favorite musician, Guaraldi replied, "Zoot Sims is my favorite saxophone player. He can make me cry. He's a guy that it's in his soul to play. It's beautiful. It's not out-of-the-book-let's-go-to-school. He's a human being."

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The national tour with Dick Gregory and vocalist Margie McCoy, in late 1963, hit quite a few colleges and universities. One such stop, on October 31, was at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, in California. In anticipation of that visit, a journalist for the campus newspaper — the El Mustang — ran a feature article that included this intriguing information about Guaraldi, along with a few quotes:

The pianist is one of the few recording artists to double as both recording director and producer.

"I plan to record new talent as well as established artists," Guaraldi says, "and will make a special attempt to discover the unknown artist of today."

The director-composer calls a great deal of this country's music put out under the label of bossa nova "sheer nonsense."

I have to say "Do tell!" to the first comment. The sole A&R (Artists & Repertoire) credit Guaraldi possesses, to my knowledge, is for Bola Sete's 1965 Fantasy album, The Incomparable Bola Sete. And Guaraldi can hardly claim to have "discovered" Sete.

The second comment generates a raised eyebrow and thoughts of sour grapes...

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When the Gregory/Guaraldi/McCoy show was reviewed by El Mustang's Lynne Prindle a few days later, on November 5, she gave a droll opening to the paragraph devoted to the trio:

Vince Guaraldi's Trio, headed by a little man covered with a handle bar mustache, banged out its impressions of such songs as "Limehouse Blues," "Fly Me to the Moon" and their interpretation of Henry Mancini's "Mr. Lucky." Highlight of the trio set was the song Guaraldi wrote and recorded, "Cast Your Fate to the Wind."

Think we should give Prindle credit for intentionally including the word impressions?

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The Gregory/Guaraldi/McCoy tour subsequently stopped at the University of California, Davis, on November 3. In the review that ran November 5 in the campus newspaper, the California Aggie, the unnamed critic concluded the paragraph about Guaraldi thusly:

The trio finished up with their popular "Cast Your Fate to the Wind" and the Fats Waller tune, "Litter Bug Waltz."

(Oopsie!)

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Richard Haddock's terrific interview with Guaraldi, in the San Francisco Examiner on March 29, 1964, includes these highly informative quotes:

"I listen to everybody," Vince replies, to the usual question about musical influences. "There were really only three main departure points in jazz piano: James P. Johnson, Earl Hines and Bud Powell. They're all great, but Powell had the biggest influence on me.

"I also like the awkward grace of Thelonious Monk very much. And then there are Art Tatum and Duke Ellington: each in a class by himself, over and above the rest. I hear Chopin in Tatum, and the classical composer in Duke."

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Finally, Herb Caen's April 17, 1964, column — which appeared in numerous San Francisco Bay Area newspapers — had this to say about an upcoming documentary about Charles M. Schulz:

Producer Lee Mendelson's TV special about Charles Schulz, A Boy Named Charlie Brown, will have Vince Guaraldi playing the piano for Schroeder, and Cal Tjader beating the vibes as Snoopy."

Well, we know that turned out to be half correct...!

Friday, June 11, 2021

Memo from Mena

Social media has become a home for all manner of celebrity-focused “publications” that entertain visitors with short (and often shallow) interviews often built around a particular hook. Most are a waste of time; a few are clever, entertaining and genuinely informative. The latter include Talkhouse’s “Three Great Things,” which encourages various artists to share three things that they adore, and have great meaning in their lives.

 

Actress Mena Suvari — who has been busy ever since her (impressively distinctive) breakout roles in American Pie and American Beauty, both in 1999 — is starring in the just-released biographical drama Grace and Grit, adapted from Ken Wilber’s book of the same title. That gave Talkhouse an excuse to get in touch. Her three great things? The beach, Akira Kurosawa’s Dreams and — wait for it — Vince Guaraldi.

 

Now, countless major and minor talking heads have extolled Guaraldi during the past few decades, usually waxing enthusiastic about his score for A Charlie Brown Christmas … and nothing else, which indicates a rather shallow awareness of our Main Man. But Suvari is different: She clearly knows her stuff, and speaks informatively about his career.

 

Among her comments: 

 

“His style of playing just blew me away. … I grew up with the Peanuts cartoons, and I loved those holiday specials when I was a kid, but there’s so much more to him than that.

 

“He came up with his own technique of playing the piano, because his fingers weren’t as long as you would expect for a pianist. He’s just the coolest man, and what he contributed to the jazz scene — and the music that he made — is just incredible.

 

“My husband and I recently went up north … to Menlo Park, where Vince Guaraldi lived, and visited the cemetery where he and his mother are buried. I brought him some flowers, and I was happy to be able to stand by his grave and say, ‘Hey, Dr. Funk, you’re amazing. Thank you for everything that you contributed!’ ”


And thank you, Mena; that’s a truly awesome and heartfelt sentiment!

Friday, June 4, 2021

Playboy visits San Franciso ... back in the day

This post has very little to do with Guaraldi himself, but it does concern his San Francisco environment, and specifically many of the jazz clubs where he performed.

During the first decade and change after its debut issue in December 1953, Playboy magazine ran an occasional “On the Town” feature designed as a “cosmopolitan’s guide” to national and international cities — Paris, Tokyo, New York, London and others — that were becoming accessible to the publication’s upwardly mobile male subscribers, thanks to the rapidly expanding network of airline travel. The June 1958 issue was highlighted by a lengthy focus on San Francisco: where (and how) to lodge, dine, drink and be entertained. 

 

Since Hugh Hefner was an avid fan of mainstream and progressive jazz, the exhaustive article included a generous coverage of Baghdad-by-the-Bay’s then boisterous nighttime jazz scene. (The action probably was richer and more extensive right then, than at any other point in time; many of the clubs cited would close, change hands or go bankrupt within the next few years.)

 

Although the article makes fascinating reading as a time capsule, one must, ah, tolerate the wincingly archaic “dating tips” sprinkled throughout, such as…

 

[San Francisco] is a place of beautiful women, characterized (more than in any other city) by independence, good jobs, a friendly love of pleasure, hideaway apartments of their own, unpretentious poise, and an utterly charming knowledge of how to dress and behave, to please a man.

 

…and…

 

Your first stop, preferably just before sunset, should be the Mark Hopkins, up at the glass-enclosed Top o’ the Mark. Relax, have yourself a drink, take time to watch the sunset, and get the feel of the city here. Many a San Francisco visitor settles for the first girl he meets — only to rue it later, when finer prospects cross his path.

 

(Ouch!)

 

Further along, having offered suggestions for the best dining and dancing, we finally come to the late-evening options. I’ve extracted those with a strong — or even fleeting — connection to Guaraldi’s career, at that moment or soon to occur: